“It’s probably better to have him inside the tent p***ing out, than outside the tent p***ing in.” So President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a champion of the Civil Rights movement, justified retaining J. Edgar Hoover, 1 of America’s worst oppressors of America’s various minorities, as Director of the FBI. Such was probably part of the kaleidoscopic calculus that went into Mitt Romney’s decision to nominate Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee and architect of Congressional Republicans’ Conservative budget blueprint, as his running mate.
I’m not trying to say Romney and Ryan are enemies; their chemistry appears to be genuine. I’m saying they won’t be policy adversaries now; if Romney is elected President Paul Ryan will depart from Congress, leaving a gap in Conservative leadership that cannot be filled behind him.
I think that was the idea.
On Sunday Governor Romney clarified on 60 Minutes that “I have my budget plan as you know that I’ve put out. And that’s the budget plan that we’re going to run on.” So, Romney-Ryan 2012 will be running on Romney’s fiscal plan, not on Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity“. You know what that means? If Romney were to be elected President (granted, a dubious prospect before his controversial Vice Presidential pick) the advocate of the most-coherent budget plan to his right would not only be removed from his chairmanship of the House Budget Committee, but would then share the burden of promoting his plan with him. Romney’s choice of Ryan, then, is a gamble by a desperate candidate with a further payoff given success. Interesting, no?
True, Congressional Democrats as much as President Obama are still eager to run against Paul Ryan, the “Path to Prosperity,” and “Ryancare.” Ryan’s 2011 plan to replace Medicare’s complex “defined benefit” entitlement of various medical services for seniors with a Federal voucher system for seniors to purchase from a menu of health insurance plans was extremely unpopular because of the limitations and risk it would impose; Republicans soon thereafter lost special elections in Congressional Districts in Upstate New York and Arizona, apparently on this issue alone.
It’s true that Romney needed a running mate who could help breath life into his campaign–but he didn’t need Paul Ryan in order to do that. Ryan is a hero among American Conservatives, but Romney didn’t need to win-over Conservatives, either. (Republicans and Conservatives are highly-motivated to vote in this election, as well they should be.) Romney needs broader, not deeper, interest in his candidacy; taking-on Ryan as his running mate is a gamble in that regard. It could be he felt his other running mate prospects were at least no more-likely to deliver their home States than Ryan was, or were just as likely to be controversial (Tim Pawlenty, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal) or underwhelming (Rob Portman, Tim Pawlenty again). But then you still have Marco Rubio and Bob McDonnell, who have Conservatie bona fides and potentially broad appeal–and who have a shot at delivering their home State (or Commonwealth, as the case may be). (Chris Christie is very popular in true-Blue New Jersey, but no one could make it vote Republican in this Presidential Election.) So, really: Why would you embrace a public figure who is more controversial than other running mate choices and no more-likely to deliver his (smaller) home State, at the cost of ceding control over domestic policy to your running mate?
1 possible explanation would be Ryan’s greater exposure to national politics, though I really think such concerns would be overblown. (Neither Rubio nor McDonnell are Sarah Palin.) Chemistry is a plausible explanation. I’ve already said trying to shore-up the base implies the Romney campaign is either unaware of what the polls are saying or that they don’t believe them. How rational is it to try to squeeze the water out of a stone?
I find it more-plausible that Romney wanted to take the controversy off of himself, and that he figured a gamble that the public would move-on from Ryancare was worth a shot. Having been nominated to serve as Governor Romney’s running mate, he has to toe Romney’s line or else he could embarrass the ticket and ease President Obama into a 2nd term; having defended Governor Romney’s domestic policy proposals during the election, if elected Ryan would then have to defend President Romney’s budget plan. At a time when Congress’ approval rating hovers in the mid-teens due to its (very recent) inability to get much done, Ryan is a Conservative Republican who is broadly-recognized for his integrity and his deep engagement in policy. This is a remarkable achievement, and a political asset he shouldn’t be willing to leverage for anything. Ryan is only 42; he could be a Republican Presidential prospect himself for the next 30 years. Having accepted Romney’s offer, if he appears only shallowly-committed to a Romney Presidency he will have compromised this reputation in an unprecedented way.
Was it rational for Ryan to accept such a subordinate role? Sure; as a Conservative Republican, why should he want a Liberal Democrat like President Obama to win a 2nd term? If he has faith in his abilities he should consider himself an asset to Romney’s ticket. In the House, Ryan would constitute both the broadest and most-articulate challenge to a President Romney’s domestic agenda from the right; as Romney’s running mate, he will share the Republican candidate’s burdens. Ryan must know he’s conceding a great deal of independence in joining Romney’s ticket, but that’s perfectly rational partisanship considering the stakes. So, while Romney picked a lightning rod for a running mate, that running mate could draw a lot of lightning that would otherwise strike the top of the ticket; he also hails from a conventionally-Blue State that has recently gone Conservative down the ballot, he’s plenty charismatic and he is intelligent enough to keep the discussion focused on policy and principle rather that calling people names. Yeah, he could have posed quite a challenge if he continued to write his own budget proposals in Congress.
Fair-play to Mitt Romney: That’s kinda brilliant.